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Review: Out Stealing Horses – “Breathtaking”

Stellan Skarsgård stars in the new film from director, Hans Petter Moland. He plays Trond, a widower who has chosen to live out the remaining years of his life in relative seclusion on the outskirts of a small, rural Norwegian village. In the harsh winter, Trond spends his time cutting wood, walking with his dog, reading, and grieving for his dead wife. He waits to usher in the new millennium, drunk and alone. A chance meeting with his neighbour forces Trond to recall the year he turned 15, back in 1948. Particularly the summer spent with his estranged father in the Norwegian forests.

The film starts with a cold and bleak reality, snow is everywhere, life is hard and the simplest of tasks are a struggle. Rooms are sparse; echoing with the absence of human contact and Trond has no-one but his dog for company. This is in stark contrast to the sumptuous, deep, warm colours of the forest where Trond’s father lived, over half a century ago. Their log cabin seems full of life, even down to the midges, illuminated in the golden beams of sunlight that pour in through the cabin’s windows. The young Trond ventures out into the lush greenery with his friend Jon, to go ‘stealing horses’ where the boys attempt to briefly ride the wild horses of the forest.

A series of tragic events forces the young Trond to confront the reality of his family, especially his father, whose commitment to Trond, his sister, and mother is not what he desperately craves.

Moland informs the present with the events of the past, images of Trond’s father pulling nettles up for soup after telling his son that we choose what hurts us, starkly contrasts with shots of blackened, withered nettles, partially buried in the cold snow of the present.

Kaaspar Kaae’s music is breath-taking, subtly orchestrating the sounds of the enveloping forest, overloading the senses as Trond moves in a dreamlike state with his eyes closed through the forest.

Stellan Skarsgård is of course excellent as the tormented older Trond, haunted not only by the death of his wife but also the events of his childhood. Everything is kept within, underneath the surface, and understated. But the standout performance in Out Stealing Horses is that of Jon Ranes, who plays the young Trond. He carries the emotional heart of the film and around which the whole movie pivots. Without such a restrained, yet powerful performance of a boy beginning to come of age, seeing his father for whom he really is and coming to terms with his own burgeoning manhood, the film could have easily become the stuff of melodrama. But his grounded and restrained performance enables Skarsgård’s Trond to resonate and stand as a wholly realised life that is finally and slowly coming to terms with his own mistakes and the mistakes of others from his past.

Moland contrasts the two stories brilliantly, evoking the life of the elderly Trond in the frozen, bitter and lonely Nordic winter and the young Trond, in a forest full of life, hope, and sunshine, where even the summer rain is warm enough to shower in. But there is also hope in the winter as friendships are made and alienated family members are reconciled. But equally, there is melancholy and tragedy in the youthful summer.

Out Stealing Horses beautifully reminds us that loss and pain play as important a role in our lives as hope and love, and indeed there is a symbiosis to them that provides life with balance, enabling us to accept others and ourselves. Where those of us who make it this far in life can choose to accept what has gone in the past and allow it to enrich what is left of our lives, rather than eat away at us.

Magnolia Pictures will release OUT STEALING HORSES in cinemas and on demand August 7th, 2020.

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